While reading materials, blog posts and Tweets today, I ran across a familiar word several times. When we talk about the message we have of God’s love, Jesus’ sacrifice and resurrection, and the Spirit’s work in our lives, we tend to use the term “gospel.” But are we really doing justice to the term as we use it today? Or are we throwing the Gospel out into the world where it collides with unrealistic expectations and preconceived notions?
Let’s start by asking a simple question: What comes to mind when you hear the word “gospel”? For some it is a genre of music, robust and soulful. Others think of the “gospel” message of the life, death, resurrection and teachings of Jesus. Some may consider the whole of Scripture the Gospel.
What do you do with the Gospel? Are you a preacher of the Gospel? This brings to mind the picture of an evangelist at a podium, preaching with a raspy, breathy voice. He swings his Bible through the air like a sword, points it at the crowd, and jigs to the sound of a gospel (there’s that word again) organ. Do you share the Gospel? Maybe you took an evangelism course, or witness to passersby on the sidewalk in the coffee house section of the city. You keep a Bible on your desk as a way of fishing for interest in your coworkers. Or maybe you just listen to Christian radio so that the Gospel gets out into your surrounding environment on a subliminal, subconscious level. Do you live out the Gospel? You study the Scriptures to find out the ins and outs of Jesus’ life on this earth and you try to emulate His life through your own.
Let me ask you another question: Why do you preach, teach, share, or live out the gospel? The most likely answer is to get people saved. In other words, we see people who are living sinful lives, often to their own detriment, and want to help them find a better life in Christ by hearing and receiving the Gospel. They are diamonds in the rough, and we have the tool to shape, refine and polish them into beautiful gems. Like Luke Skywalker, we try to coax them from the dark side to the good, proper side of life.
Suddenly the Gospel takes a meaning I’m not sure it was meant to have. It becomes a piece of the Christianization puzzle.
I may have just made up that term, but it reminds me of what the ancient Greeks and Romans would do to the nations they conquered. When a country or city was claimed by the Empire, it did not just receive a new flag to show who was in control of it. To be left in such a way would allow the inhabitants to consider themselves originally one nationality, under the dominion of another. In such a state, the Empire would constantly be at risk of rebellion by those who wished to be as their were, under their own rule, maintain their own culture and way of life.
But the Greeks and Romans were too smart to have to deal with constant uprisings. They had far greater priorities. So to help keep peace, they would Hellenize the peoples they conquered. The goal was to take the people of say, Asia Minor, and turn from “asians” to “Greeks”. They would import the Greco-Roman culture to the point that the city no longer looked like it did, but now looked as if it had always been Greek or Roman. Greco-Roman arts, philosophy, law, representation, and various other elements became the new way of life. These conquered peoples could become citizens of the greatest civilization to grace the earth; they need only embrace it.
Applied to Christianization, it is the act of taking lost, unchurched people and retraining them to be churchy people. For the Romans we think of togas and feathered helmets. For Christians we think of cross necklaces, pressed clothes and leather-bound Bibles. No more cigarettes, drinking, loud music, dancing, unkempt hair, tattoos or piercings. It’s time to move from darkness to light, and that means acting more like Jesus and what the traditional picture of a Christian looks like.
The term “Gospel” is itself a churchy term. If you walked up to someone on the street and asked them what “gospel” means, how do you think they would answer? “Hey, man, do you want to hear the Gospel?” What are the odds that they’ll just cock their head, chuckle a little, and move along with their day?
We need to get back to the true meaning of the term. Gospel is literally translated as “good news.” Now, if you walk up to that same guy on the street and ask if he wants to hear some good news, there’s a better chance that he’ll want to stop and listen. In these times, good news seems to be in short supply. HLN, the network formerly known as Headline News, is constantly on the lookout for “Good News In A Bad Economy.” Why? Because our hearts can only take so much bad news before they breakdown and we become hopeless and useless.
The essence of the good news is hope, which is fast becoming the mission of my ministry. I want to be a beacon of hope. When you hear good news, you begin to hope that something good will come to you. If you don’t, if you’re first instinct is to mirror the heart of Eeyore and believe that you’ll never see the sun after the clouds, then you are in need of good news more than you can imagine.
There is good news that Jesus can reach through whatever circumstance you find yourself in and bring you peace, life, grace, and the promise of a future. When you are lost and alone, He will never leave you or forsake you. When your marriage is in trouble, there is hope for healing and restoration. When your child is sick and dying, there is hope that she can be healed. When everything around you is death and destruction, there is good news that your life will not be wasted.
I know it sounds like semantics, but it seems like a distinction that needs to be made. Let’s stop trying to Christianize the world with the Gospel, and starting bringing hope to a world in need by bringing them good news.